America has been continuously at war since the fall of 2001. This has been a matter of bitter political debate, of course, but what is uncontestable is that a sizeable percentage of American soldiers sent overseas in this era have been women. The experience in the American military is, it’s safe to say, quite different from that of men. Surrounded and far outnumbered by men, imbedded in a male culture, looked upon as both alien and desirable, women have experiences of special interest.
In this talk, based on her latest book, Soldier Girls, Helen Thorpe shares the story of three women on a 12-year journey into the military, overseas to combat, and back home.
Thorpe bypasses the usual political rhetoric and instead conveys with objectivity and compassion the reality of individuals who are caught up in our broken immigration system today. No matter what one’s opinions are about immigration, Thorpe offers fascinating insight into one of our most complicated social issues.
Thorpe talks about what it means to struggle with one’s identity, hide a stigmatized identity, or inherit an identity from one’s parents and country. And what it means to craft an authentic identity of one’s own, when one grows up pulled in two directions by different cultures.
Thorpe speaks eloquently about the struggles that face the first generation in a family to acquire a college education. The students she followed acquired bachelor’s degrees even though their parents had not finished elementary school. Thorpe describes how this accomplishment was achieved and why these students stayed in school.
Helen Thorpe is a nonfiction author who lives in Denver, Colorado. She has been a journalist for over twenty years and has previously written magazine articles for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, and 5280. She also serves on the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.
Her first book, Just Like Us, was published by Scribner in September 2009. It won the Colorado Book Award, was named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, and was adapted for the stage by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in a play that was staged in October 2013.
Her second book, Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War, came out in 2014 from Scribner. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin described Soldier Girls as “an absolutely terrific and important work.” Publisher’s Weekly called it “moving,” while Booklist said it was “engrossing and heartbreaking at once.” A review in Kirkus said: “[Soldier Girls] tells the absorbing story of how wartime experiences shaped the lives and friendships of three female soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . Intensely immersive reading.